Realizing the fine print on the ‘American Dream’

Luis Bahena and Luis Bahena

If I started this piece by saying that I always land on my feet, one could easily imply that I also have nine lives. Obviously, I’m referencing a cat here, but after the past couple of weeks that I’ve had, I can’t help but analyze this little metaphor on cats.

It is a fact that cats land on their feet, if the height isn’t too high of course. If the height is higher than they can handle, there can be serious injury and death. Then, there’s the whole myth or belief that cats have nine lives.

Really looking at this, though, one can conclude that cats are just very good at “dodging bullets” by being agile, smart and instinctual creatures. Tricky little critters that somehow always manage to get themselves out of trouble.

This article is so not about cats, but I couldn’t really think of any other way to begin this piece to the end of this rather stressful semester. Perhaps I’ve been through a lot that I felt a strong affinity to how cats always manage to land on their feet, and how they manage to survive all sorts of feats, hence the nine lives belief.

At this point in time, I really wish that I could say that I will land on my feet, that a little hope and prayer will keep me above water. Yet, as hard as I try to peddle, the sinking feeling begins to feel more like quicksand and less like water. The more I struggle and try to remain on the surface, the faster I sink.

As I drove home after hearing some more bad news (on top of everything that life has already thrown my way), I began to realize how poor the middle class in the U.S. is.

Looking back to my childhood, we were never really poor, for we had clothes on our backs and food on the table. Yet, at the same time, I remember not being very wealthy either. We were the in the middle class.

As I drove home, I realized that my efforts of trying to escape the middle class that I had been raised in failed. Like my mother then (and now), I too am sitting on a pile of bills and bills that are held up by a foundation of some old bills whose interest rate have kept me from ever reaching that finish line.

It is as if Uncle Sam has said, “Here’s the American Dream (it’s different for everyone). Good luck trying to reach it.” We get so excited about trying to reach that dream that we see it as a challenge, a game. And who doesn’t like a good game, a good challenge? It’s the chase that’s half the fun.

We get so caught up in playing the game that we forget to read the fine print, which goes something along the lines of, “While playing the game of trying to reach the American Dream, you might wind up in debt, owe thousands of dollars in loans, realize that the road is really long, settle for a meaningless job where interest rates will hold you back even more, screw up and get in trouble with the law adding more fines to your mountain of debt and realize that no matter what you do from now on the dream will just seem more and more unattainable therefore crushing any hopes of getting there!”

Just like in infomercials, that fine print sure is a mouthful. Sometimes, it feels that way though .

Thinking long and hard about the road still left to be traveled, I find that I no longer have a clearer destination. With so much going on, I leave this semester with so much uncertainty. I think this is what scares me the most, not knowing what’s going to happen next.

A lot of the stuff happening is so out of my control, such as debt and the economy, cutbacks on jobs and everything else life throws at you. I can sit in my parked car and cry for the uncertainty that’s left ahead, but for one, I realize that shedding a tear won’t do me any good, and second, it won’t change what’s happening (aside from the fact that my tear ducts have been dry for a long time now).

When I began my column “Live and Learn” a few years back, things were so much easier. My troubles were school and books and the fun and trivial things that life has to offer. But somehow, the name finally became more real and more about living and actually learning about all that I have experienced.

I like to believe that the column, like me, has grown a lot from its fun, comical and trivial days and has turned into what life is really like. Doing things on your own makes you realize that a lot of things you learn by trial and error. Sometimes it takes a lot of errors, which sucks, but it’s the only way to learn.

As I return to my “amateur writer” cliche, I shall add one of the many sayings I’ve heard time and time again: “You must crawl before you can walk, and walk before you can run.” There’s also the “You must fall in order to pick yourself up,” which is one of my favorites.

So hopefully, like a cat, I’ll land on my feet. Maybe things will turn out ok. Maybe things will go in my favor and luck (or god or the cosmos) will reward me or help me out and lend me a hand. Perhaps the heights from which I’ve fallen from aren’t that high, leaving a few more lives left in this wandering street cat.

This I know for sure: I am kind of tired of chasing the “American Dream.” I’m no quitter, but everyone has to admit when they’re in way over their heads. I think I’ll just have to readjust my objectives, followed by paying off that debt and then clearing my name of all those wrong that have gotten me in trouble.

After that, I’m thinking Canada. Hell, if the “American Dream” is that hard, you know by keeping the middle class in the middle class, perhaps giving Canada a shot might not be such a bad idea. I mean, free health care anyone? At least that would be one less worry. Oh yeah, and one less bill.

Luis Bahena is the City Times opinion editor